This article was originally published 24 May 2017 on The Referee Developer.
Over the last five years, there has been a massive increase in the amount of resources available for officiating development in British Columbia. This process has ebbed and flowed over time but recently, there has been marked improvement. Not only have associations begun to recognize that officiating is integral to the game but they understand their own roles in improving the quality of their officials. While investment at the association level is limited by the means of their membership, the improvement has been noticeable across the board.
This new reality has led to a need to measure and quantify the success of officiating development programs. An association’s board is accountable to its members for all expenditures. As a result, Referee-in-Chiefs (RICs) across the province are required to justify their inclusion in next season’s budget; hopefully, with more resources to improve their programs. This means that RICs must be able to demonstrate successful, or at least progress.
Apart from the pragmatic, there is a philosophical need for RICs to measure success. The success of the program is also a personal success for its leaders. Although the amount of money available for development is increasing, the work remains purely a labour of love for virtually everyone involved. RICs and supervisors might receive seasonal or per-game honoraria as compensation for their time. However, most are unpaid volunteers. Therefore, if the hours that RICs and supervisors are spending at the rink aren’t yielding success, then a change in approach is best for everyone involved. Which prompts the question, how exactly do we measure success in this new age of officiating development?
These same discussions have been ongoing for years across all youth sports. For coaches and coach-educators, the debate has largely revolved around the relevance of trophies. Do trophies won at eight, eleven, or fourteen years of age represent the long-term success of an individual athlete, coach, or program? There are no such trophies for officials. The nearest comparison is an official being selected for a local, provincial, or national championship event. Should that be the primary benchmark for a program’s success? Or should our RICs and supervisors follow the lead of coaches and attempt to identify alternate criteria for measuring the success of our programs?
Success is progress; it cannot be measured without starting points and goals to guide the program. Moreover, each official and program will be progressing from different positions. Setting out goals when preparing to implement a new development plan is the simplest way to ensure that your success will be measurable. Although your plans and goals will require annual review and revision, all minor officiating development programs are founded on similar principles. In 2011, my colleague Timothy Dodds and I had co-authored a development plan ahead of the inaugural season of a new program at the Vancouver Thunderbird Minor Hockey Association. We revised the plan annually as the program underwent exponential growth but the introductory section never changed:
True to form, these are broad statements rather than a set of specific goals. However, they are easily translated into specific, measurable objectives. In 2015, as part of a conversation around measuring success in the broader context of youth sports, I came up with these two questions to help define the progress of our program:
Of the officials who had the desire to officiate at the “high performance" level, how many did we help achieve their goal?
How many of the officials that came through our program continue to participate in the sport as adults because we created an environment in which they could love the game?
While these two questions specify criteria for measuring individual success, they still lack a rubric against which the program as a whole can be judged. How many officials must be working “elite” or “above minor” hockey and by how much does our program’s retention need to increase before the program can be considered successful? These principles and goals could apply to virtually every youth athlete development program. However, there is also a need for variation between individual programs. Terrace Minor Hockey will face different challenges than Richmond Minor Hockey and will have varying resources available to meet these challenges. Where possible, these challenges should be identified and considered in the creation of a development plan.
There will always be the temptation to equate the success of individual officials at the high performance level with the overall success of a program. It is natural for minor hockey associations to tout their athletes that have progressed to the high performance level and for high performance leagues to tout their alumni at the professional level. However, development programs should strive to avoid this model, especially at the minor level. The success of one individual at the junior or professional level is not indicative of the program’s overall strength. A program’s ultimate responsibility is to assign qualified officials for their games. In order to fulfill that task, they are required to support and develop their officials. If you create a realistic plan to fulfill this duty, you can set attainable, highly specific goals that will allow you to measure success when you achieve it.